The Berlin Wall and Beyond.
I have to confess that I haven't taken many trips in the last few years just for the hell of it. I've gone on many corporate event projects that are anything but relaxing. On those trips I'm along to document...everything. From the great revelations of the engaging CEO's to the wry smiles of the audiences, and a lot of stuff in between. And I approach each of those engagements with my usual anxiety and trepidation. I try to make each working event pretty much bullet proof. By that I mean that I take along duplicate/redundant gear, I leave a lot slop in my travel schedule and I bring a first aid kit filled with various quick cures; from antihistamines to antacids to aspirin.
In fact, I think it's largely because of my almost unrelenting anxiety that I had never tried Uber or gotten to an airport less than two hours before my flights. I'm certain the same need to perform without hiccups is the magic ingredient that makes most business oriented travel very stressful for me. I don't mean to say that I'm a quivering mess for the entire time I'm gone, in fact, I feel pretty darn relaxed and happy when I'm in the air on the final leg of a flight home. It's just the rest of the time that I could be a walking advertisement for Xanax.
So imagine if, after hundreds of corporate shows, conventions and forums, at which I was working and creating externally focused content for client, I actually got invited to go to a show as an attendee? How would that play out?
I found out this past weekend. I am an instructor for the premier online learning channel for arts, crafts and photography. I've created three classes with Craftsy's talented teams of producers and videographer, and I've had fun doing it. Even more fun is feeling like a celebrity when I meet a student out "in the wild" and they tell me how much they love the course. To an artist with a fragile ego (are there any other kinds???) it's like pure gold. I got a taste of that a week ago when I was working on location at an international company's north American headquarters and one of their people came walking across the room towards me, excited to tell me that he'd taken one of my Craftsy photography course over the holidays and had, "Loved it!!!"
So a month of so ago the folks at Craftsy decided to bring together their instructors in one place to have a retreat/forum/learning experience wrapped around our involvement with teaching our Craftsy courses online. We got to meet our counterparts across all the categories of courses that Craftsy offers. They generously offered to pay for our food, our bar tabs and our rooms for the weekend and they brought in lots of great speakers to help make us smarter about social media and marketing.
This is the first time in ages that I've been invited just to be an attendee. No obligation to speak or do a demo. No required attendance and no schedule parsed out in five minute intervals. As a bonus (at least for sports fans) we were put up at the Inverness Conference Resort just south of Denver and shared the hotel this weekend with the home team, the Denver Broncos! (They were sequestered at the resort before the AFC championship on Sunday --- some of those guys are enormous!).
I packed one carry-on and then I went into the studio to try and figure out what camera to take. In the end I turned around, closed and locked the studio door and decided that, since I wasn't required to take a camera this might also be a mini-vacation from my almost obsessive need to photograph things. That attitude of non-responsibility carried through to everything...
I had ridden in Ubers summoned by others but had not downloaded the app and tried it myself. If I were heading out on a paying gig I might not have tried it but the downside of a failed Uber experiment was minimal in this case and I figured that if a car didn't materialize Ben could drive me to the airport. No need. Everything worked like a charm and the coupon I had downloaded to my phone paid for my trip to the airport. One more anxiety trigger cured.
Now I feel comfortable using ride sharing services without reservation.
I usually get to the airport way, way too early. It's a knee-jerk reaction to all those times we've had to return rental cars, check in overweight and oversized equipment cases and be on guard for airline induced schedule changes that might jeopardize our first day of work in another city. This time, flying for fun I headed to the airport and arrived about 45 minutes before my flight. Jeepers. Never done that before. At least not willingly. And I had a revelation: It's nice not to spend time fretting in the waiting area at the gate any longer than one has to.
I made my own reservations so I wasn't at the mercy of someone else's travel department. I chose to fly Southwest and, of course, it was great.
The weekend was incredible and the input from so many different sources has had me questioning and examining all of my preconceptions about everything from direct mail (good stuff) to my blogging. I'm working through it now.
One of the things that disturbed me and is causing me some marketing soul searching this morning as I sat down to start writing was looking over to the right of my blog at the list of followers. A couple of weeks ago we had about 1525. Since then we've lost about 40. In my years of blogging the number has always gone up and never gone down. And now (fragile ego) I want to know why. I also want to know if what I am writing is relevant to any but a tiny contingent and, if that's the case, should I abandon the way I've traditionally approached the blog (I've written what I wanted to) and default to the more profitable, and marketing driven engagement, wrapped around selling more courses, linking to more products and writing to a wider (and less educated) audience. Which would entail writing shorter articles with more superficial dives.
The marketing people who spoke this weekend were uniform in two things. One is that they exhorted people to be "genuine" and to "tell their own stories" but on the immediate flip side they pushed us to see what is trending on Facebook and Google and customize our content for that. It's an approach that builds audience but, I think, in my case, is antithetical to my authentic nature and also to what I think makes this blog functional and meaningful. It would be nice to have it both ways but I'm not sure I want to change my "voice" to fit a marketing template. By the same token I'm not enthused about "building a following" on Facebook. Might be good for some people but I can't write with a fake smile plastered across my face. Just can't do it.
So, let me ask you guys (and it is mostly guys) a few questions about the blog and maybe you can help me out a bit by giving me some feedback and direction.
1. What is it about the VSL blog that you like? What brings you back?
2. If you "unfollowed" the blog (and succeeded in breaking my heart, one small fiber at a time) can you tell me why you decided to do that? Seems to me that unfollowing is an act of sending a message since it requires and action which doesn't really effect/benefit you one way or the other. Was it a lack of content? A point of view? Too much rumination about swimming and the meaning of life?
3. Are you here mostly to read what I write about gear? Cumulatively you say "No!" but your collective page view numbers say otherwise....
4. What kind of articles (in the spectrum about which I have written in the past) do you really, really enjoy reading?
5. Are you here to garner a sense of community? Or do you just want to read some free content?
6. Why are people mostly reticent to comment on anything?
I could go on and on but I really am at an impasse where I feel like, just as with camera sales, I am speaking to a shrinking audience and not getting the return engagement I'd really like to see.
I don't want to turn this blog into a sales tent. I don't want to change my subject matter to go off in pursuit of some mythic audience. But, if it's no longer relevant for most people to read blogs from photographers, or to read blogs specifically from me, I'd really like to know.
I would ask, again just for the sake of my own ego, that if you enjoy the blog please become a follower. It serves no other purpose but to make me feel good. To make me think that people get something of value here in the mix.
Over the next few days I'll be talking about some trends in marketing that I'm sensing (and which, surprisingly, are supported by metrics). It could be interesting. I'm also even more interested in video, and video as a new modality of "snapshot" aesthetic. And I still like to talk about cameras.
I guess, for a guy with writer's block, I'm navigating my keyboard and my brain pretty well for right now. Sorry for sharing too deeply but I don't want to do the blog in a total vacuum and I think you can help.
I'm back from out of town and I had a great trip. Let's get this week started.